On March 31, the Office of Inclusion (IMQ) hosted an online seminar to commemorate International Transgender Day of Visibility, an annual awareness event which intends to honor and shed light on the transgender community. While the seminar certainly underscored the difficulties endured by transgender individuals in society, it equally celebrated the progress and triumph of trans groups over the years.
As an on-campus organization, the IMQ is committed to establishing an accepting environment for students with diverse backgrounds, according to its page on the NAU website. Through programming, mentoring, academic support and other services, the organization looks to develop a close relationship with the student body at NAU. Its mission statement explains that the IMQ is welcoming to every student no matter their culture, gender or sexual identity and provides them with community engagement opportunities.
The variety of services offered by IMQ is extensive; one such service, its “Zone Training Series,” focuses on educating the NAU community about issues relevant to diversity. DREAM Zone 101, for example, exists to introduce staff and students to the difficulties faced by the undocumented community so they are better equipped to express solidarity for undocumented students. This is only one of five Zone Training Programs that IMQ offers, alongside a range of other activities and resources.
Coordinator Martin Tease facilitates activities and programs for the organization. For this year’s commemoration of International Transgender Day of Visibility, IMQ held a virtual tea party and hosted guest speaker Parker Lemal-Brown, a Bowdoin College graduate who spoke about his transition and his identity in the entertainment industry.
“My role, along with our assistant director Marian Griffin, is to create, develop and program events like this to help support and promote members of the NAU Qmmunity who identify as transgender, or trans for short,” Tease said. “We thought that Parker was a great host, as he developed the event to be more informative and engaging in a tea party-like setting.”
Lemal-Brown, a writer, aspiring producer and showrunner, discussed the entertainment industry and his role as a trans artist. With considerable experience in the industry under his belt, Lemal-Brown traversed a variety of topics over the course of the seminar, beginning with his overall aspirations for his career and in Hollywood.
“Professionally, I’m excited for the chance to start pitching my projects, and moving on to the next chapter of being a writer,” Lemal-Brown said, “I’ve been an assistant for almost three years, and now that I have a couple of my own scripts, the next step is getting the opportunity to pitch them as a series, and getting paid to produce my own projects.”
Among a multitude of other accomplishments, he has worked with and produced for famed entertainment companies including Netflix, Amazon and Quibi. His passion for artistry and creation is clear, and as an advocate for intersectional LGBTQ+ representation, Lemal-Brown intends on making the entertainment industry a more inclusive environment.
According to his website, Lemal-Brown is currently a member of Time’s Up’s 5050by2020 Transmasculine Cohort, the #PayUpHollywood movement and Young Entertainment Activists, Time’s up 5050by2020, for example, is a movement which challenges the inaccurate reflection of diversity in the entertainment industry, which fails to properly represent a wide range of demographics.
While progress has been made, as indicated by the increased popularity of media in which the LGBTQ+ community is represented, these efforts are still paramount for achieving a wholly inclusive industry. Some demographics still remain underrepresented; there are few transgender actors casted in television, and when they are, they are presented in “victim roles” at least 40% of the time, according to an article by GLAAD, a publication dedicated to honoring inclusive and accurate portrayals of LGBTQ+ individuals in the media.
The distinction between mere presence and actual representation is crucial, as statistics fail to account for the condition of LGBTQ+ demographics represented in film. As stated by NBC News, the on-screen appearances of LGBTQ+ people of color and Latinx LGBTQ+ individuals don’t match those groups’ actual population estimates. Similarly, LGBTQ+ demographics are most often pigeonholed into specific roles and categories of movies, and have yet to fully break through to other genres, as per NBC News.
For Lemal-Brown, the consciousness of these trends inspires him to take up the pen and reimagine the possibilities for LGBTQ+ entertainment. He said trans characters are often presented in such a way that makes them appear inauthentic, rinsed and repeated, and that their role in the film is almost entirely based on their identities rather than what they truly provide to the plot.
“Trans characters, now, mostly appear in dramas ... you don’t really see those characters in comedies, sci-fi, etc. I want to create characters that are Trans, which is part of their identity, but not their entire character,” Lemal-Brown said.
The purpose of International Transgender Day of Visibility is to recognize these truths in all aspects, and, as stated by Tease, to celebrate the contributions the transgender community has made to society as a whole.
On March 31, President Joe Biden released a proclamation in recognition of the date.
“Today, we honor and celebrate the achievements and resiliency of transgender individuals and communities. Transgender Day of Visibility recognizes the generations of struggle, activism and courage that have brought our country closer to full equality for transgender and gender nonbinary people in the United States and around the world. Their trailblazing work has given countless transgender individuals the bravery to live openly and authentically.”
As President Biden states, International Transgender Day of Visibility recognizes a certain activeness in the pursuit of full equality: regardless of personal background, it is only in taking an active role in progressivism that real change can be made. This is the essence of the IMQ’s mission, and a necessary step toward real equality.